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Successful 18F project teams

Once a project begins, the 18F project team is responsible and accountable for its success.

What does project success look like?

We know we’re successful when we:

  • Deliver on the Statement of Work
  • Deliver value to the partner — including helping your partner identify what will be truly valuable
  • Have a healthy team with positive working relationships

Other good signs of project success include when we:

  • Identify strategic direction of the project in support of the partner’s mission
  • Build and maintain relationships with the day-to-day partners while the project is in-flight, as well as key stakeholder and executive relationships
  • Strengthen partner technology practices
  • Foster effective use of taxpayer funds
  • Improve digital experiences for the public and public servants
  • Deliver high quality artifacts and other deliverables
  • Manage work so team members can share responsibilities, meaningfully contribute, and be billable at the expected rate
  • Adjust staffing and budget of project when necessary
  • Identify ways we could help the partner more, given more time, in future engagements

What does accountability look like?

Deliver on the Statement of Work

Accountability here means knowing how work on the ground connects to what’s listed in the Statement of Work, and if that SOW needs to change. How closely does the partner understand and agree with our approach to delivery? Project teams decide together how the statement of work should be delivered upon or decide to recommend to the account manager that an SOW should change. This should be guided by partner needs and determined by team agreement and/or subject matter expertise.

Define and deliver value to the partner

Accountability here means having a clear understanding of what 18F needs to do on a project to provide value to the partner. That may look like helping the team stay focused on shared goals, flagging for 18F leadership when a project is in danger of not delivering, or tracking the balance between strategic, long-term recommendations and actionable, immediate guidance. Project teams should identify together what value looks like, especially for the partner. Determining value, just like all of our work, should be user-centered — what others need, not what we think is most important.

Tend the strategic direction of the project

Accountability here means knowing where a project is headed and what you’re trying to accomplish, both for the partner and for 18F. That may look like coordinating with a portfolio director, working with your team to build internal alignment, or flagging when disagreements between partner and project team may put work in jeopardy. Project teams define a project’s strategic direction. If a team is struggling to come to agreement, consider reaching out for assistance as described in Managing Projects in Distress: When to Pivot/Pause/Stop.

Build and maintain relationships

Accountability here means understanding who partners and executive stakeholders are and what they value. That may look like having weekly 1:1 meetings with the day-to-day partner, coordinating with other project leads working for the same agency, or collaborating with account managers, portfolio directors, or project team members who specialize in stakeholder management. Project teams should own relationships with stakeholders. On some projects, the project lead may not even take the lead on this aspect of the work. The strategy for stakeholder management should be discussed among the project team. One-off conversations with multiple team members can lead to confusion. However, it’s also true that a single point of contact is a single point of failure; we need our partner agencies to value and trust 18F, not individual members of the 18F team.

Strengthen partner technology practices

Accountability here means learning how the partner’s program and their agency currently approaches managing technology. Through workshopping and modeling, we help partners work toward treating software as an ongoing operational investment. Success can include progress toward staff at partner agencies being able to make decisions about their digital products, being able to conduct design research and use it to inform decisions, and being able to hire better contractors to help them.

Effective use of taxpayer funds

Accountability here also requires understanding partners’ familiarity with de-risking technology projects. Success can include demonstration and use of approaches such as creation of open-source public IP, cost avoidance, and increased transparency.

Improve digital experiences for the public and public servants

Accountability here means doing user research to understand the needs of the public and of public servants. We strive to ensure that the participants in our research reflect the diversity of the people our partners serve. Improving digital experiences can be assessed by metrics like better access to digital services, reduced support calls, improved timeliness of delivery, and/or improved user satisfaction.

Ensure quality of deliverables and artifacts

Accountability here means knowing what we give our partners — and how useful, relevant, and polished those deliverables are. That may look like tracking the materials we give our partners throughout a project, knowing how each deliverable moves a project forward, or making sure the team takes advantage of 18F’s design lab for visual or content support. This also means understanding how distributed an artifact might be and how durable over time, and thus whether accessibility measures need to match the current day-to-day team’s needs, or be made fully accessible to assistive technology.

Project team members should choose what deliverables or artifacts are most useful, and what is, or is not, high quality. Individual team members are the subject matter experts of what quality work looks like for their particular chapter or discipline.

Have a healthy team with positive working relationships

Accountability here means each team member is aware of how project teams function, both amongst themselves and with partners. That includes being aware of our biases and privilege, sharing opportunities and administrative tasks, recognizing power distance, and being an active listener. 18F project teams should use democratic approaches to project leadership. Project leads should actively solicit opinions from the team on project decisions — and whenever possible, drive the team towards consensus. If consensus is not possible, the project lead is responsible for building alignment around a solution through a decision-making framework that is appropriate and equitable, such as a decision matrix or coin flip.

Missteps on projects will happen. Teams do not have a crystal ball into partner expectations or communication preferences. Project leads and outside facilitators can help the team reflect on what is and isn’t going well, and then help the team come up with alternative methods in the future. It can happen that the best course is a change in staffing. These changes must be made by staffing representatives from chapters and portfolios, not project leads or team members. For more information see: How do project leads and team members get support?

Manage work so team members can share responsibilities, meaningfully contribute, and be billable at the expected rate

Accountability here means being aware of how project work is split up among members — and if everyone has enough to do without being overwhelmed. That means flagging potential issues to your project lead as early as possible, either if you have too much work to complete, or will be taking time off.

Project leads should rely on subject matter experts to assess the types of work needed, and aligning those to the budget. These can be areas of tension on cross-functional teams and can require collaborative decision-making.

Identify project and partner needs

Accountability here means keeping a meta eye on the project to make sure it, and our partners, are set up to succeed. That may look like highlighting new opportunities for the business development team, requesting a change in staff when new or different skills are needed, or connecting partners with subject matter experts in relevant chapters, portfolios, or domains. This can also mean ensuring there’s sufficient time for preparing future proposals. Project teams recommend the shape of future work. Recommendations should be guided by partner needs, determined by team consensus and/or subject matter expertise, and executed and crafted by — or in very close partnership with — account management.